by Serge Berthier

ASEAN-ISIS Conference – June 3, 2002



To avoid here games of moral relativity which would enable us to call one man a "terrorist" while another, generally from a different social background, would get credit for illegal, immoral and often far more horrific policies and attacks, I have to make clear that, in this paper, I approach the phenomenon of terrorism purely on a technical angle.

While "terrorism" has different meanings for different people, I believe that we can all agree that "terrorism" is a method that states and sub-state organisations used throughout history for a whole variety of political causes or purposes (1).

This special form of political action has five major characteristics:

- it only exists in a determined political environment

- it tries to influence political behaviour

- it tends to provoke an over-reaction

- it attacks the society upon which states rely to keep control

- it always bears a negative emotional connotation (2)

Terrorism is, of course, not an official foreign policy of any nation.

Since it is a political act, what makes it different from other "legitimate" political acts is that it is always using means that violate the natural rights of persons to further political or social objectives. Although we tend to assimilate "terrorism" to the use of indiscriminate violence, we should also keep in mind that it could also be using more subtle means.

The US government, although using in 1986 a similar definition of "terrorism", as the above one, thought it was necessary to qualify further that the means are "unlawful". However, because a state is the enforcer of its own laws, the lawfulness of the means used for a political action is a dubious criteria. For example, the implied consequence of the US State Department’s definition is that "a lawful

use or threat of violence against a person or property to further political objectives" can never be "an act of terrorism". Then dictators would have been innocent, as they always acted according to the laws of their countries. This is the line of defence used by Milosevic at the Hague tribunal. He was acting within the laws of his country that his government adopted.

We see already there that "terrorism’ is a tricky concept because whatever the means, political actions aim always at:

1 forcing opponents into conceding some or all of the perpetrators demands,

2 serving as a catalyst for a more general conflict

3 publicising a political or religious cause that could or would not be expressed otherwise, and more generally

4 undermining existing governments and institutions

5 achieving power

Thus, there is a similarity that is striking between the two forms of actions. Why then turn to terrorism rather than conventional political means?

If we want to thoroughly answer that question, we will have to consider what those means are, and whether they are truly democratic or not. Let us agree here that the reason is that conventional means are unlikely to bring changes, either because they are considered unlikely to work, or too costly.

As we mentioned earlier, terrorism is not necessarily an act of pure violence resulting in the deaths of the victims. It can take the form of a more pervasive violence against the individual or the society. In fact, every form of government has commonly used intellectual terrorism ever since we have states and rulers. Censorship, for example, is a form of intellectual terrorism as dangerous as any other. It aims at reducing the ability of the individual to judge or be informed. Directly or indirectly, it is a tool used by a dominant group to enslave a segment of the society (the dominated) into accepting a set of values and a given society (3).

But what attracts a lot more attention is terrorism expressed by the use of force either by state actors and non state-actors (4).

Keep in mind that politics are neither a fair game nor a moral enterprise. The ultimate goal of politicians is not to remain in the opposition but to become part of the government, and eventually the President or the Prime Minister.

As for States, on the geo-political level, they define themselves through their national interest, and success means to be able to resist any attempt against it, or to be able to extend it in a subtle manner, and that is always by weakening some other state’s own self-defined national interest.

The negative emotional connotation the term carries has led many academics and governments to attempt to prove that "terrorism" is not a successful strategy. The fact that such a question is raised at all is already an admission that we have a serious problem with politics in general. How could you conclude for example that ‘terrorism" is a successful strategy? The society would be exposed to a terrible dilemma.

Yet, "terrorism’ has been extremely successful as a strategy of change, but change does not mean success. If success is to put power in the hand of a politician, or a group of people, history will prove you time after time that only "terrorists" of one sort or another took power, but not all "terrorists" succeeded. Therefore, it is hard to prove it is your best strategy if you want to take over the Presidential palace and enthrone yourself.

However, if the question is, was the world the same ever after, then the answer is simply no. By this admission, terrorism proves it is an effective tool of change. Whether we like the change or not, is another question (5).

Thus, success may be judged by a variety of benchmarks. Would such a judgment have any meaning for the future? Absolutely not, because none of the terrorist organizations we would refer too had to face similar circumstances. What they shared was only the fact that they were challenging a determined order. However, the price for the society is high, and for the individuals unacceptable.

The question is therefore, why can’t we find a better strategy for change. Is terrorism the only method to alter a given social order?

Looking back, we can’t be optimistic. Civilisation, whatever the definition, has always been a long series of bloody undertakings. Look at historical records. What do we compile? The best generals, the wars, the change of powers. A bloodthirsty ruler will get thirty pages in the book, whatever the country. A gentle ruler living in peaceful time will be lucky if he is mentioned at all.

We are very proud of being civilised but we have yet to find a proper definition for this word. If we have made a lot of progress, and the world is in appearance kinder to many individuals than it ever was, if we live longer, our health is better and poverty is receding, millions of people died in the last century, more than in any other, for the supposed welfare of the state. Clearly we have yet to get rid of the military mentality, where the individual is degraded to a mere instrument and becomes "collateral damages", because the normal ends of human aspiration vanish with such a viewpoint. Looking at the decision made by the Bush administration to spend 340 billion dollars on weaponry, we can hardly conclude that we are on the right path. If anything, we are returning to old rhetoric (6).Why can’t we change the way progress moves? Why is the evolution of mankind a long succession of wars and act of terrors?

The root is with the state, which has always been to varying degrees, a contributory cause of campaigns of non-state terrorism. The historical pattern is that, once governments come to assume that their ends justify the means, they tend to be locked into a spiral of terror and counter-terror against their perceived adversaries.

States don’t learn

States actually exist only in a determined political environment. Hegel had already observed in the XVIIIth century that "nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted according to rules that might have derived from it." They consider in fact their environment to be fixed forever, and in some quarters, a God-given order. As a result, States cannot accept that a challenge to:

- the internal status quo

- the sovereign state

- the external status quo

is legitimate. But history constantly produces new features. The external conditions, as we shall see, are far from being frozen in time. It is this divergence between delusion and reality that creates the necessary conditions for terrorism to emerge, challenging one or the other status quo, if not all of that.

The internal status quo.

In Asia, which states have their internal status quo challenged by "terrorists"? I don’t want here to list all of them, but only the most significant ones:

- India with countless rebellions

- Indonesia with Muslims fighting Christians and vice-versa

- Nepal facing today a rebellion

- the Philippines with the Mindanao problem

- Pakistan with countless communal and regional infighting

I don’t list Myanmar. Yet, some would do it. Myanmar, although it is facing constant challenges at its borders, can’t be said to be facing a challenge to the internal status quo, since there is no such thing yet. That is the major issue facing the current government. It has yet to fix what the State is within a constitutional framework that unifies politically the country. A change of name from Burma to Myanmar is not the answer to such a challenge. Acts of terrorism, or qualified as such, in Burma, are in fact directed at the creation of a central authority that was never in the past in full control of the areas in dispute. It is a good example of the difficulties we face when trying to put into a box and under a label political acts that challenge the existing order by violent means. Whether Burma needs to be Myanmar within post-colonial borders is not for us to discuss.

The sovereignty of the state.

There is so much irony in the fact that economic globalization is challenging borders, yet sovereignty is fast becoming a sacro-saint concept. In Asia, sovereignty within the borders we know is quite a novelty. If we look back, 50 years ago we did not have so many sovereign states. Yet, every state pretends to have an historical legitimacy that will last forever, but I don’t think history will be so kind to many as we know them today.

Internal status quo and sovereignty is another matter. Sovereignty is a space concept. It is valid within accepted international borders. It could be challenged for a variety of reasons, by insiders or by outsiders. Rebellion in Nepal does not challenge the sovereignty of the country, although it challenges the kingdom, which defines the internal order.

In India, its many rebellions do not get a lot of attention outside the country, nonetheless they are bloody and many civilians are killed year after year. They do not attract international attention because they do not challenge the borders of the federation of India itself, but the existing social order. The only rebellion that is worth our attention is the Kashmir one, because it challenges the sovereignty of India.

In Asia, where States are about 50 to 60 years old, there were many challenges to sovereignty. Let’s mention here only the most significant ones:

- China with Tibet, and Xinjiang,

- India with Kashmir, but also insurgencies in the border tribal states of Nagalan or Tripura

- Pakistan,

- Indonesia with East-Timor, Aceh and Iran Jaya

- The Philippines with Mindanao

- Sri-Lanka with the Tamil community living in the north trying to secede

Some problems were solved one way or another. Yet, at the onset, the challengers were labelled by the State as "terrorists undermining the state". Yet, their only commonality was that they oppose the sovereignty of the central government.

Were the problems solved peacefully? No, but the use of force that ensued was not necessarily successful. For example, the Tibet issue was not solved by the occupation of a large Red army in the country. The military deployment prevented others to move in, but the Tibetan population would have been hostile to China in its majority if economic assistance had not been forthcoming. The deployment of the Indian army in Kashmir has been a failure, and its Muslim population is as ever opposed to the State.

The external status quo.

Each state projects its sovereignty within an international order that was shaped for the past fifty years around the concept of the Cold War. When the Soviet Union disappeared, many thought that the Cold War principle would die with it. However, it did not happen because the Cold War principle was only the actualisation of the Monroe doctrine and its corollary, the Theodore Roosevelt one. Both still shape the foreign policy agenda of the United States. Moreover, the doctrine has more to do with the United States than Russia or communism.

Monroe, who was President in the early XIXth century put on notice the Western powers, at that time, he was referring to the British, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Russian, that they were not allowed to interfere with their ex-colonies in Latin America. In other words, the United States had declared that its power projection would encompass the whole of the American continent, north and south included. There was only one problem with such views: the American countries themselves had not been consulted and some Spanish colonies, Cuba was one of them, had no intention of joining the Northern American sphere of influence. South America’s main trading partner had been Europe for centuries and the economic exchanges with the United States were basically non-existent.

Then foreign intervention in Latin America resurfaced as an issue in U.S. foreign policy at the turn of the century as European governments began to use force to pressure several Latin American countries to repay their debts. For example, British, German, and Italian gunboats blockaded Venezuela’s ports in 1902 when the Venezuelan government defaulted on its debts to foreign bondholders. The United States worried that European intervention in Latin America would undermine their self-declared dominance in the region.

As a result, in his address to Congress in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt stated that in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine the United States was justified in exercising "international police power" to put an end to chronic unrest or wrongdoing in the Western Hemisphere. The meaning was the right to interfere wherever the United States had considered the "national" interests of the country at risk. This so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine contained a great irony: whereas the Monroe Doctrine had been sought to prevent European intervention in their former possessions, the Roosevelt Corollary justified American intervention throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The Cold war principle fitted in. And the war on "terrorism" is, you will agree with me, then just another manifestation of the Roosevelt Corollary.

The world has changed greatly since 1904, therefore it is open to question whether such a concept is still relevant. Although some think that the world has reached an organization that is the best we ever had, it is unlikely that it will remain as it is for centuries. It never happened before.

And in fact, there are many signs, amongst which "terrorism" is one that the world is breaking from the status quo that reigned between the treaty of Yalta and the birth of the Euro, roughly between 1945 and 2000.

It can’t be denied that the post-WWII status quo achieved a lot but it must also be recognised that it entrenched a given structure that did not deliver all it could.

However, in the past five years, a number of events altering the external status quo deeply and probably forever took place. On the surface, they went unnoticed. The feeling of eternity remained strong among the leaders of the world, but the Roman emperors had the same blindness, while presiding over the collapse of their empire and a civilisation. They never doubted that they were still the masters of the universe until the end.

Let me here outline why the external status quo is at the end of its shelf life.

For some, the collapse of the Soviet Union would appear as an important change. But I don’t think it affected the existing order and its rational fundamentally. A proof of the limited impact on world order is that the G7 became the G8 to include Russia. If economic fundamentals had been what mattered to join the club, Russia would have been excluded and China included.

The only immediate consequence end of the Cold War, and historically it was not a novelty, was that the Eastern communists countries, for most of them former parts of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, reinserted themselves into the European economy. The move was only a return to the world order of the XIXth century.

The only power to be truly affected in the long run, is not even Russia but the United States, hence its desperate gesticulation about NATO between 1995 and last week. But whatever happens to NATO will not change an historical pattern. Europe is back to where it was at the onset of the mid-nineteenth century.

Such an event, without international implication beyond the borders of Europe would have been of little consequence for the rest of the world if Continental Europe had not broken the post World War One status-quo (that gave birth to World War Two) by creating the Euro.

Money and society

Fernand Braudel, in his remarkable book "Civilisation and Capitalism" asserts that "any society based on an ancient structure which opens its doors to money sooner or later loses its acquired equilibria and liberates forces that can never afterwards be adequately controlled. Then every society has to turn over a new leaf under its impact".

It has not yet fully been appraised that the emergence of this new currency has far more reaching consequences that the Yalta treaty.

The world has witnessed many political treaties in the past, Yalta was one of them. But our civilisation did not use many financial instruments since the Roman time and each one shaped for a while a given order. The emergence of the dollar as a world currency was orchestrated through the Marshall plan in order to hook up the economies of Europe to the United States. It succeeded in destroying the pound sterling as a world currency. The ensuing result was that the world became dollar-addicted to the benefit of the dealer. The Euro is putting an end to the dollar addiction. Already the Euro zone is the largest trader of the world, and its economy larger than the American one. The reason it is not yet so apparent, especially in Asia, is that the Euro zone outsources only 20% of the goods and services its economy needs. It is therefore immune to international pressure. Hence for example its bad press when it slided against the dollar. Nobody really cared about such a rate as it was not an important factor or macro-economic policies. But if you tell a foreign exchange dealer that, it is not big deal, and if you ignore Wall Street don’t expect a good press.

The renaissance of China

Another factor that is much talked about, yet not really accounted for in international relations is of course the emergence of China as the third largest economy of the world, just behind Europe and the United States.

In the 1990s, it was fashionable to debate whether China’s economy would sustain its course. The underlying thinking was that only capitalism sustains economic growth and it was unconceivable that a non-capitalist country could develop. But we had absolutely no facts to back up such a view while we have ample evidence that unfettered capitalism is self-destructive.

In any case, China is there and unlikely to go. Its economy will have its difficulties, as well as its own Enron scandals, but overall its market and its consumers have both reached critical mass. Barring a war, the country is on course to achieve remarkable progress using a mixture of economic rules. And there is no evidence that its political system is not conducive to economic performance, it is rather the contrary.

Therefore, the principles upon which the post-war external status quo was established are already gone. The world can no longer be divided between three unequal blocks, a capitalist one, a communist one, and a third world. It is already divided into four, the American block, the European one, the Chinese one and the rest of the world. Russia with a population of less than 200 million, will eventually have no choice but to fall into the attraction of Europe where its civilisation has its roots.

That "terrorists" surface to challenge the external status quo when it is already under strain by other peaceful developments is classic. When the Roman order was about to collapse, it was subjected to all sorts of acts of violence challenging the status quo. The most spectacular event, because it was a near impossible proposition, was the revolts of the slaves used as gladiators. Spartacus, their leader, nearly succeeded but when the Roman establishment regained control by sheer luck, it killed all the terrorists. But it did not change the course of history. The problem was not the slaves, but the Roman society itself.

Terrorism: a strategy of changes

What makes me believe that many are off the mark by a wide margin when we analyse the challenges to the external status quo, is that one year ago, in this very room, an official of the new Bush administration was explaining to us the imperative necessity of the NMD defence system.

In a way, the new Bush administration had the vague notion that something had changed and that it was not in the interests of the United States, but it came to the wrong conclusion. Looking back at history, the mistake is typical and probably unavoidable.

As we go from one system to the next, no one has yet any knowledge of the working mechanisms of that new system, while we have many informations about the old one. Hence, the natural tendency to analyse what is happening using the same rhetoric and the tools that have been proven useful in the past. And in military terms, the NMD is just an evolution of the MAD concept (mutual assured destruction). Can it apply to a new order is an open question, but what it proves is that we are still dominated by the military mentality, because the first answer to a shift in the world order is a military response.

It is doubtful that using old concepts such as states waging war against states, will bring a solution to the current challenges the world is facing. War might look an option for regional or localised conflicts, but is increasingly unlikely between major states. This is the price or in my view rather the benefits of the extension of the MAD concept from the global level to the local level.

Einstein and his friends had this perception that proliferation was the second best answer to the madness of having weapons that could blow up the planet twenty times over. The first one was to hand over all weapons to an organization such as the United Nations backed up by an International Court (7). Of course, politicians are against such an idea and would like their own weaponry to remain ahead of that of their perceived enemies.

But look how useful the MAD concept is, today, in India and Pakistan. In any other circumstances, the countries being so far apart would already be engaged in a conventional war, had their armies been less powerful and the MAD principle not at play. People seem to have forgotten that more people were killed in the war between Iran and Iraq than during WWI. An open conflict between India and Pakistan could be even more barbaric.

If we know that the external status-quo we lived with is on its last leg, we don’t know what will emerge and when the new status-quo will be stable enough to be considered a new world order. Yet, we know that the idea of Einstein will not happen. States remain states and in the meantime, we have to get use living in a lawless disorder. Of course, it would be nice if we could get rid of such lawlessness, but here we are, with ad-hoc rules that consider non-human factors (missiles, strategic bases, weapons of all sorts, the possession of raw materials such as oil) essential, while the human being, his desires and thoughts – in short, the psychological factors, unimportant and rather secondary. Herein lies in truth the crux of terrorism.

Political disorder

That political disorder be punctuated by terrorism of one kind or another should not be a surprise. The first significant one with a global reach was not September 11th, but the Asian crisis that took place in 1997.

When it occurred, if you remember, every Asian government was immediately accused of all sort of sins, in spite of the fact that the crisis was not a result of profligacy on their part. Then, in stage two, the Asian governments were subjected to all kinds of pressures, some of them quite unacceptable such as the closure of small and medium size banks in Indonesia in dubious circumstances. The rules of the games were decided by the financial establishment that operates between New York and Washington. Here again, non-human factors were considered essential and human beings dispensable.

Only Malaysia resisted the kind of intellectual terrorism that originated from the IMF and its sisters organizations. At the time, politicians had to show political courage to resist. Only one did. Dr, Mahathir, came out openly against the politically correct view of the day. Then, even one of the practitioners, the chief economist of the World Bank, Dr.

Stiglitz became disgusted and came out openly against the intellectual terrorism that was taking place. He got bad press, was ostracized and ridiculed, but to no avail. As an excuse, he was later granted a Nobel Prize but I am not sure that he is very proud of it.

Today, in view of many scandals that occurred from the LTC hedge fund bankruptcy to the Enron scandal, it is clear that the Asian crisis had nothing to do with economic fundamentals or governance. It would certainly be interesting to revisit it entirely.

Some may feel that "terrorism’ is a word too strong, and that there is little in common between a financial crisis and al-Qaeda. But how do you compare one and the other? If it is by the number of victims, more people had their livelihood destroyed by the Asian crisis than families lost their loved ones in the Twin Towers. But more to the point, the

The Asian crisis had all the characteristics of a act of terrorism because:

- it could exist only in a determined financial environment

- the perpetrators tried to influence political behaviour through unlawful means

- the operators and institutions provoked an over-reaction

If the financial establishment had acted rationally and in the interests of the Asian community in general, there is no doubt that the crisis would not have taken place at all. The baht would still have been devalued, but it would have been an one-off event. However, the opportunity was there to take advantage of a system that did not have the means to resist. Ultimately the perpetrators were not at risk as the cost was born by the victims themselves, which is another peculiar characteristic of terrorist acts.

The Asian financial crisis took place in a shifting context, with the globalisation process moving in a way that was not clearly understood. Here again, old formulas were used to explain new things, and human beings considered secondary, as usual.

Probably, in economics, as in physics, rules that are at best approximation at a given dimension do not apply across the board. We know that Newton’s physics are at best an approximation working only under specific circumstances. But it took a long time to admit that if objects are bigger, the law of gravitation does not work. If they are smaller, it does not work either. That is why we have quantum physics. It is quite probable that economics suffer from the same fate. Today we still do not have an understanding of what the new financial architecture of a global economy must be. A little modesty would do wonders. However, those who benefit most from the confusion do not believe that something is fundamentally wrong.

Why changes do not proceed smoothly

The reason is that modification of the external status quo, for those who benefit from it at the expenses of others, is a risk. At best, the new external status quo could maintain their privileges, not improve them because the system being stable, it is assumed that it reached its optimum. It is the Bell curve principle that applies there. The odds are against an improvement, therefore change is a perceived enemy.

That is where there is a divergence between the actors. If changes are the enemy for those deriving maximum benefits, which is the Western economies, for Asia, with little privileges in the current order, any change in the external status quo could carry opportunities. We can already distinguish a number of countries that are taking this view. Afghanistan, Burma, Japan, Pakistan, India, and Sri-Lanka are among them. But from the list, you realize that we already have conflicting perceptions. Afghanistan, India, Pakistan have conflicting expectations.

How to respond to Terrorism?

How to respond to terrorism is for a state a matter of survival. For the society in general, it is however a different matter.

This dichotomy is because a state and its society do not necessarily share the same objectives or the same long-term value. We have already highlighted that, for the welfare of the state, non-human factors are generally more important than human beings are. That is why today we are facing difficulties in forging a consistent view on how to respond to a challenge perceived as against a given determined order.

Is the challenge against the state or against the society?

Take the so-called war on terrorism incarnated by the ubiquitous al-Qaeda network. It is clear that the strategy of the Bush administration is to coerce the American society into the belief that it is its core values that are at stake. The continental European society and its political establishment disagree strongly, making clear that it is the core values of the American policies that are challenged. To amalgamate the two was just a act of propaganda and, in my view, a very unwise one.

But what should then have been the response?

The society has the choice between three actions or a combination of them.

- Use of force

- Use of political means

- Use of economic means

Probably, a triple therapy would be best, but, because we use the state to organise the human society, it is an unlikely response. This is because to engage in the use of political or economic means would force the state to acknowledges the legitimacy of the claims made against it. This is an implausible proposition.

Because of the negative emotional connotation attached to the method, States chose generally to stress in a first step that the violence is illegitimate. There are many examples of this conduct throughout history. In Asia, a recent example of the denial of political or economic means as a necessity can be found in the Nepalese conflict.

What compounds the problem the society is facing when "terrorism" is used, is the fact that states have a prime responsibility in its emergence. Remember that not only does terrorism exist solely in a determined political environment but that it is never proactive. Terrorism is always a reaction to a perceived abuse by the state of its power.

The law of inertia

States in fact are like particles in the universe. They keep moving in the same direction unless forces act upon them. It is the law of inertia that applies to everything in this world, whether it is an atom or a planet.

Furthermore, states are subjected between their elements, to the same kind of interaction, one at close range, and one at long range. Its elements are the society and the individuals. Both carry a potential charge. In physics, the charge has the peculiar characteristic that unlikes attract and likes repel. The same seems to apply at the individual level. Attraction and repulsion do exist, but they generally balance out. When stable, their combination is overshadowed by the law of inertia.

When unstable, they repel one another, endangering the whole structure of the state. Hence we could say that terrorism is to a state what an electron is to an atom. It carries a force, exists at every step but under normal circumstances has not effect on the structure. Only an external factor may induce a change – it could trigger a nuclear reaction or simply provoke a new combination of atoms.

But then, what is the nature of the charges. I see three different elementary particles binding a society to a state. They are of course many other components, but they are not electrons but neutrons, if I may say. In other words, they carry no charge although they may play a part in a chain reaction. The three particles with a charge, as far as the state is concerned are poverty, religion, nationalism

What shows how close state and terrorism are interrelated is that if poverty, religion and nationalism did not exist, it would be hard to find what "terrorism" would be about, and hard to justify the existence of a state.

Indeed, countries that have created the necessary close range social interaction to eradicate poverty, reduce religion to a private belief rather than a public concern and transform nationalism solely as a cultural reference within defined borders do not give rise to "terrorism".

Is terrorism on the rise?

A positive sign is that there is no resurgence of terrorist activities. By number of events, the data does not back up the hysteria surrounding the September 11 event.

We should not confuse the way a terrorist act is carried out with its meaning. In other words, it does not make the act of terror itself more or less important because one ends up being a sophisticated attack with an enormous loss of civilian life (the Twin Towers attack) while the other remains an individual action using a crude weapon ending with the killing of an innocent victim.

If we look at "terrorism" in 2001, and its perpetrators, there are today less perpetrators than last year.

If we should not focus on the number of victims but on the number of events or the number of actors, when analysing "terrorism’, we should also discount the fact that the challenger is likely to be caught and that it would be the end of terrorism. Many people challenged the status quo in the past, the status quo being then incarnated by the papacy.

The enormous difference in resources made it likely that the challenger would be caught, dead or alive. When alive, a due process of justice would take place and the perpetrator was then lawfully executed. So, it is expected that the terrorists of today are going to be caught and eventually executed, or just killed like when Che Guevara was caught.

But what is clear is that the society has adopted, repeatedly a very different perception. Che Guevara is a hero and his killers are forgotten. States collapse easily when they misjudge their own citizens.

Can we find further similarities with past misjudgements? I believe that the most important similarity is one of value. Today the society at large has the pervasive sense that amorality and impunity are the hallmarks of globalization. This is bad news.

The papacy was in danger when people started to lose faith in the morality of the institution. Today, a massive number of people are losing faith in the morality of the international order and its leadership. It has created massive resentment on a scale never seen before in peaceful time. The mismanagement of the globalisation process has been appalling. No wonder something broke lose.

The mismanagement of globalization

The mismanagement started long before the Asian crisis, long before Seattle, but it is today all the more obvious that poverty seems to make a comeback in the coattail of institutions such as IMF. Since 1971, the number of countries considered by the United Nations to be extremely poor has risen from 25 to 48 in April and 49 in June, with the coming of East Timor among them. They represent 13% of the world population, while the OECD countries represent 17%. Those destitute countries represent 0.4% of world exports and of course, they can hardly import anything from elsewhere. If they were improving their economies, the sentiment that they are condemned to poverty would probably be replaced by hope of a better future, but their trade has declined by 40% between 1980 and 1997. No one needs them anymore. Overall, 80 countries have seen their per capita GDP fall during the 1990s. Could this be allowed to go on without consequences? We now know what the answer is: no.

Poverty breeds terrorism. Not always, some would say. True, not all poor countries are breeding grounds for "terrorism", but there is no doubt that the correlation between poverty and "terrorism" is strong.

By the way, poverty has many meanings. The most common one is linked to wealth and affordability. Poor means being unable to feed oneself or raise a family. Poverty means deprivation and hunger. But poverty could also mean being deprived of proper education, of intellectual stimulus and of hope. Thus, poverty could be either "economic deprivation" and/or "intellectual deprivation". The Saudi example shows that wealth is not necessarily enough to avoid "intellectual deprivation".

Recently, I was going through a paper written by Armatya Sen, the 1998 Economic Nobel prize. The topic of the paper was population growth and its consequences. In this paper, he argues that only education brings down birth rate. Coercive state policies do not work. He even went to argue that the one child policy in China did work but not because of the state apparatus - because of the remarkable economic growth that was simultaneous to the enforcement of the policy. If birth rates are going down with education, the corollary is that it is a better indicator of poverty and lack of education than any other economic indicator.

Birth rate versus terrorism

The world average is 22 births per 1000. The developed countries are at 11 births for 1000 versus less developed countries (excluding China) at 28. Further proof of the correlation between birth rate and poverty are given when one looks at Africa’s birth rate: 38. In sub-Saharan Africa where poverty is endemic, the rate is even higher at 41. From those numbers, we certainly can assert that anything above world average means that the country is more likely to have a serious poverty problem combined together with a lack of basic education than a more fortunate country.

In Asia, the average is 25 (with China included it dropped to 22). Asia does not have a serious poverty problem, or does it? The average masks wide discrepancies. The highest birth rate in the region is 43. Where?

In Afghanistan. It is the poorest country of the region. Then we find a birth rate at 39, in Pakistan and Laos, and Nepal at 35. The list could go on with East Timor at 33, the Philippines at 29. It is now assumed that Indonesia is poor. Under Suharto, the average birth rate went down to 23, with vast differences between Central Java and other parts of the countries. Every one at the time agreed that poverty had basically been eradicated. Today we do not have updated meaningful statistics but every one agrees that the birth rate is on the rise again, and poverty on the rise. Sensible family planning policies coupled with economic development had brought the rate down, bringing down the number of insurgencies and terrorist acts. Today the family planning policies have lost their impetus and any substantial funding. It is not surprising then that terrorist activities and communal violence are on the rise.


Does religion breed terrorism? Some might be surprised that I even ask the question, since we live under the impression that to be a terrorist one has to be a Muslim, or that every Muslim is a terrorist, especially when you happen to be Muslim and try to board a plane in some obscure airport in the United States.

The question must be asked because, if religion is a fertile ground for "terrorism", it is hard to conclude that one religion is actually a more fertile one than another is. At any given time in history, you will find acts of terrible violence perpetrated by religious zealots against others in the name of their faith, not to mention act of violence against their own, just to be on the safe side of God.

Therefore, a more appropriate description of the problem is that "faith or belief", any faith or belief is a fertile element for terror. Once an individual believes in a supreme order and a supreme justice, he or she tends to become less rational as regards his or her relations with a determined political order.

Europe was wrecked for centuries by religious wars, and the Protestants and the Catholics committed countless atrocities in the name of their faith. Thus, the problem Islam is facing today is not unique and in terms of sheer number of victims, if one has any interest in such grim statistics, Christianity has been far more murderous that any other religion.

Can a state confront a religious "threat" in a satisfactory manner?

One way to look at the problem would be to define what kind of state we are talking about. Hence, some might consider whether we can have secular and religious states. In fact, it is fashionable to think that a secular state is more peaceful than a religious one, but we have to be cautious because the state here might be one thing and the society another. A good example of a so-called secular state within a religious society is the American one. Where else do you have a President mentioning God here and there in public statements? In any case, I believe that a debate about the virtue of the states is sterile, because once again we have data that give us a different perspective. There is indeed a strong correlation between high birth rate and religious problems.

The Middle East is the most fertile ground of religious conflicts in what looks like a tradition going back to the Stone Ages. The states that are based on religious values have very high birth rates. Yemen is at 42. The country was by the way mentioned as a haven for terrorists. Saudi Arabia is at 35.

Of course, Saudi Arabia is not listed by the US as a "terrorist" state, but don’t be fooled by the ad-hoc lists issued by the State Department. Saudi Arabia has been a net exporter of "terrorists" for years and no one was surprised that in the tragedy of September 11, 2001, its citizens played a key part. Furthermore, about 100 of them are in Guantanamo, more than any other nation except Afghanistan.

The true situation in Saudi Arabia is that, while the family of Saud accounts for the bulk of the wealth of the country, and its capital is a showcase, the country has all the syndromes of a poor one: high birth rate, low level of education in the population (illiteracy rate among women is amazingly high) and high frequency of "terrorism". Bin Laden, viewed in this context, is not after all a phenomenon. His tactics to bring down the unelected rulers of his country are pretty much the same as many would-be kings of the past in a past kingdom.

And to put perspective on the validity of the birth rate as a benchmark of political violence, look at the numbers of the Palestinian territory: 42, while Israel is at 22, which, for one or the other, is far higher than the civilised world.

Where else do we have endless serious religious terrorism? In Sudan, where birth rate is 34. Northern Africa in general, with a birth rate of 28 is at the threshold of poverty versus "terrorism". United States too is not immune to acts of terrorism by religious fanatics. It goes from the killing of doctors practising abortion to the Waco massacre or the Oklahoma bombing. This should indicate that while the per capita of the United States is very high, the actual distribution is badly skewed. And it is the case. The proportion of families with incomes of less than US$10,000 is still a surprising 12.6% of the population, and even more worrying is the fact that the median income for families whose head had not completed a high school degree decreased between 1995 and 1998. Such families still account for 20.4% of the total.

What about Asia?

It is thought today that Asia has been extremely successful at accommodating a myriad of religions for centuries. My opinion is that it is a glorious illusion. Religion has been a powerful factor in shaping the countries, but as religions tended to go along ethnic lines, state terrorism blurred the usual pattern of religious "terrorism". Today, however, the faultlines are coming to the surface whenever poverty and lack of education are present such as in the Indian states.

Since all the states facing terrorism in the name of religion have high birth rates, my opinion is it is a social problem rather than a religious one that needs to be tackled. It goes back to poverty and alienation. The use of force against religious ‘terrorism" under this circumstances can at best buy time but it will not eradicate the problem if poverty and alienation are still nurtured by the system.


Only few weeks ago, East Timor became the 190th member of the United Nations. The media were extremely positive about it. It was the end of a long process, and the sign that people can make their own decisions, that democracy is at work and that it is a sign of progress.

I will disappoint you but I don’t believe for one second that democracy had anything to do with East Timor, and in the end, we have to wonder what really has been achieved. East Timor is only a few weeks old but is already embroiled in court cases about its rights over oil fields in its vicinity. As a small player in a big game, it has little resources to know exactly how to protect its rights and what to do. As for poverty, East Timor is unlikely to get out of it, with or without oil. I know that we argue today that the right to statehood is part of a democratic choice. It is not true, nationalism is a figment of the imagination. (And in the case of Timor, a religious conflict gave rise to nationalism).

Asia is well aware, with so many Diasporas that cultural attachment to one’s culture can be expressed in many different ways, and that it can be borderless. I remember interviewing the head of the Indian diaspora in Hong Kong. He made clear that he does not feel Indian. He did not feel any belonging to India to whom he only had a cultural attachment.

The same could be said of many other Diasporas including the Chinese one. One of the assets of Asia is in fact that with the exception of China, nationalism did not equate for a long time with ethnicity. However, this concept is now under threat. In India, the BJP is introducing and supporting the supremacy of the Hindu culture over any other indigenous culture. The problem is that India is a federal state and Hinduism is only one of its elements. The more it wants to be an Hinduist country, the more its "nationalism" will be challenged. This is precisely what the communal violence in Gujarat is about. In Sri-Lanka, it is the same story with communal violence taking place along ethnic lines.

Why is it that we have a resurgence of "nationalism" along ethnic or religious lines in Asia? Most certainly because the dividend of economic progress under the states were distributed or perceived to be distributed along ethnic lines.

Malaysia, to avoid such a problem, took drastic action more than 20 years ago, but it does not mean the problem no longer exists, but Dr. Mahathir would tell anyone easily that, if it has been greatly reduced and brought to a manageable level, it is still there.

One country that failed to address decisively such an issue was Indonesia where the Chinese community still controls a disproportionate portion of the wealth. Sri-Lanka too is the victim of a miscalculation and it played in the hand of the poorest segment of the society, the Tamil. The Philippines state is also a victim of its own negligence.

But what are we saying there? That nations brought upon themselves problems because of their own failure to take care of every segment of their society.

Nationalism is in fact a weapon of last resort for the disfranchised. When the state fails its citizens, so the citizens failed it. It is only when people are sorry about their social identity that they become nationalist. Here again, the root cause is poverty and what goes along.

Nationalism is the easy answer to poverty. People believe and are told to believe that any action to improve their recognition through nationalism would induce an economic benefit. Unfortunately, it is far from being true. Many countries are poorer as a result, but it does not prevent others from trying the same game. After all, why not. Even if the odds are against any real improvement, it is a wager that can rip huge returns especially for the leaders of groups vying for independence.

Here again, it seems that at the root of any independence movement is a feeling of deprivation that has been nurtured by the state apparatus. Then it is used to breaking apart the society. Compounding the problem are most of the time historical factors and the many stakes that nations that are more powerful have in the status quo.


Because terrorism is a tool of last resort, the corollary is that the situation must be pretty bad or hopeless for people to turn to "terrorism". If we do not admit it, then we are unlikely to go to the bottom of the problem.

One thing that seemed to be obliviated by the negative connotation of terrorism is that the perpetrators do not become what they are for the fun of it. They are, rightly or wrongly, strongly motivated by what they perceive to be wrong around them. And those people have as much faith in their cause as the Pope in his religion.

Of course, the easy way out for governments is to say that the perpetrators of terrorist acts have been brainwashed into believing into their cause. Look at the disbelief of the United States officials when they discovered foreigners among the Taleban including a perfectly decent Californian. The official attitude was that he did not know what he was doing although he made a statement to the contrary.

But all the above shows that an act of terror must firstly be interpreted as an act of failure on the part of the state, a sign of if not bankruptcy then of bad management.

Of course, for many reasons, states have a duty to prevent act of terrorism pretty much the same way they must prevent crimes. But we should be blinded by the atrocities the terrorists are committing to get their message across. Their actions are always a response to an unanswered question.

Asia has its share of questions left unanswered for too long. For example, Nepal was considered a peaceful kingdom for many years. At the same time, many economists were pointing out that it was a country that squandered its foreign aids. People were getting poorer and poorer. No reform to the Panchayat system was in sight. If as far as Washington, a conservative institution such as the World Bank was questioning the rational of the government policies, then clearly at home, a new generation of Nepalese was asking the same questions repeatedly without getting any attention. The answer has been the Maoist insurgency.

Another insurgency linked to the impoverishment of a segment of the population was the Mindanao one. Mindanao is blessed with a huge potential. It could be the green belt of the Philippines. It will never be. What made it an easy prey to terrorism of one sort or another, is that, in a predominantly Christian country, it is a Muslim region. Yet, it is not a religious problem at all, but its impoverishment could be seen as some sort of sinister plot against a segment of the society. In fact, the state was very impotent, because it is impotent elsewhere and in Mindanao the Church does not play its self-induced role of educator of last (and actually first) resort.

The Philippines has been unable to solve its poverty problem. In fact, the disfranchised population of the country is getting bigger every year, not smaller. There is no reason to believe that what the state can’t achieve in Catholic counties, that is a reduction of rural poverty, it will achieve it in Mindanao. That is why I am not optimistic on any long lasting eradication of terrorism in this part of the country. And actually, we should not be surprised if elsewhere something broke lose in the medium term.

Indonesia is facing the same problem. The current insurgencies are generally a response to poverty and hopelessness. We should not be blinded by this notion of independence. It is nowadays only a cry of last resort rather than a demand for more freedom and a modicum of democracy. In actual fact, most of the new countries are less democratic than they ever were in the past. Generally, they are mired in communal conflicts that ruin their economy and their population. Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia use to feed half of Africa. When I lived in Gabon in the 1970s, the local market was awashed with fresh vegetables that were flown in every day from Harare. Today, Zimbabwe can’t feed itself. There are many potential Zimbabwe out there in Indonesia.

What Asia should not do

Fortunately, Asia is not beset with the problems Africa inherited from its former colonial masters although it did have its share of ethnic problems. In some places, they have been solved through political balancing, in others they have yet to be solved, but in essence, economic growth has always been the right answer to those problems.

The worry is that, with limited resources, Asia falls into the trap that the United States are laying around in their war against "terrorism". The trap is that for more security, Asia should spend more money, not on its home-grown development programs but on its military. The United States have been criticising the European on that aspect, arguing that only its military had the capability to wage a total war, albeit an electronic one because of its advanced weaponry.

We are not here going to discuss how efficient an army spending 10 billion US$ dollars in Afghanistan is against one whose total budget did not exceed 30 million in its best year, but the logic of the military mentality. If peace could be achieved through military means, the world would have been at peace long time ago, because never before so much money was spend to wage war than in the twentieth century.

That is the conclusion that the European have reached when they told the American that if the choice is between decreasing aids and debt-forgiveness to finance a new array of high-tech weaponry, or increasing aids and support to poor countries and this limiting military purchases to what is strictly needed for deterrence, then Europe will chose the latter rather than the former. Asia should do the same, because if we don’t change our cultural attitude, we are unlikely to bring changes to the structure of the society. And we all agree that it needs to be improve. Otherwise, terrorism will keep its legitimacy as a tool of change.

Furthermore, our society, to survive, should elaborate new rules and morality and if the terrorist have to account for their actions, then surely a common international law must apply to all. And I mean all of them without exception.

Serge Berthier



1.- we should try to remain neutral and keep a scientific view of this special form of political action. But it is difficult because, even this word ‘special’ introduces a moral element into the field of politics, and that is a doubtful proposition. History shows us that politics over and over has no morality but only goals, and politicians, and I don’t target one in particular, but all of them, have only one fixed idea and it is power.

2.- Two Dutch researchers from the University of Leiden, Alex Schmid and Albert Jongman, collected 109 academic and official definitions of terrorism and analysed them in search for their main components. They found that the element of violence was included in 83.5% of the definitions, political goals in 65%, and 51% emphasized the element of inflicting fear and terror. Only 21% of the definitions mentioned arbitrariness and indiscrimination in targeting and only 17.5% included the victimization of civilians, non-combatants, neutrals or outsiders

3.- a new form of pervasive censorship in the development of Science is the overuse of the intellectual property rights attached to scientific researches. A good example of the danger is the clash that occurred between the United States authorities and the European ones about the human genome. Ultimately the European decided that the research would be publicly funded and the results available to all scientists. Since then, there are many examples of scientists being sued for using what is considered a patented form of molecules or other elementary particles used in the field of their researches. However, as Einstein and others outlined many years ago, it is ‘society" which provides man with the tools of work, language, the forms of though, and most of the content of thought he uses. The scientist’s life is made possible through the labour and accomplishments of many other scientists, past and present who are all hidden behind the world "Science". Can one pretend a right to a particular discovery on his /her own? It is of course an implausible proposition. Yet, it is exactly the underlying thinking of the current trend about intellectual property rights.

4.- Thus, the moral dilemma about terrorism that ensues can be summarized as follows: When the perpetrators are the state actors, the act of terror is considered as legitimate, moral and legal.When the perpetrators are non-state actors, the act of terror is considered to be illegitimate, immoral and illegal. When the non-state actors become state actors, which is often the case, then morality changes sides.

5.- it can be argued for example that the al-Qaeda organization set up by Osama Bin Ladden has been very successful in bringing changes, but not successful in taking power. Among the changes, the al-Qaeda forced upon its target (the house of Saud) is the realignment of the external policies of the kingdom towards the Middle East countries and away from the American sphere of influence. Another far-reaching consequence of its war against the United States has been the revamping of NATO with the creation of a council where Russia is an equal on a number of issues – a proposition that the United States had rejected before September 11, 2002. A third consequence has been the undermining of the United States’ moral authority on the human rights issue. "By suggesting that national security may require compromises on human rights in the United States, the U.S. government risks signalling its allies that ‘anything goes" in their own human rights practices", Amnesty International concluded in its 2002 annual report.

Geo-political analysts knew for along time that the human rights issue was only a tool of the foreign policies of the United States, but this knowledge was limited to a confined circle. What al-Qaeda provoked, was the unveiling of such attitude to the public at large. In turn, it resulted in a serious loss of credibility of the American foreign policies that will make impossible for the United States to conduct the same policies without resorting to new tools, or alternatively to abandon them and establish a new relationship with the rest of the world.

6.- Einstein, in 1947, observed already that "the military mentality is still more dangerous than formerly because the offensive weapons have become much more powerful than the defensive ones. Therefore it leads, by necessity, to preventive war. The general insecurity that goes hand in hand with this results in the sacrifice of the citizen’s civil rights to the supposed welfare of the state. Political witch-hunting, controls of all sorts (e.g., control of teaching and research, of the press and so forth) appear inevitable, and for this reason do not encounter that popular resistance, which, were it not for the military mentality, would provide a protection. A reappraisal of all values gradually takes place in so far as everything that does not clearly serve the utopian ends is regarded and treated as inferior".


Serge Berthier "On terrorism in Asia"

Asean-Isis June 3, 2002, Kuala-Lumpur - Malaysia